Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Barrow In Furness on my rail pass

Making use of my 'northern' (the franchise replacing Northern Rail) rail pass I decided today to ride a train I've only recently found out about. It runs daily from Manchester Airport to Barrow In Furness and back and though it is run by 'northern' it is formed of Trans Pennine Express (TPE) Class 185 diesel units, a cut above the usual hand-me-down scrapyard-dodging diesels operated by our local franchise. Because of this, I had always assumed it a TPE, not a northern, service.

A Trans Pennine Express Class 185

The train leaves the Airport at about 11:30 (so a late start) as two 185s coupled together, a total of six coaches, which splits at Preston with the front unit going to Blackpool North and the rear to Barrow.

Preston is reached via Manchester Piccadilly, Salford Crescent, Bolton, and Horwich.

From Preston, the Barrow train goes via Lancaster, Carnforth, then along the south Cumbrian coast through Ulverston to Barrow.

Please click on any picture for a bigger image.

 The castellated ramparts of Lancaster Station

Between Euxton Junction (south of Preston) and Carnforth the train runs along the West Coast Main Line. WCML 'main' section (Network Rail 'Route 18' from London Euston to Carstairs) is approximately six hundred kilometers in length, but at only one point in that length, and for a only a few hundred metres, does it actually touch the west coast. That is here, at Hest Bank between Lancaster and Carnforth, where we briefly glimpse the Irish Sea at Morcambe Bay.  

Carnforth is the home of West Coat Railways, infamous for safety transgressions which have twice lost them their Operating Licence from Network Rail, though they are currently 'in the clear'. Parked here, on the former 'Steam Town' site is a lot of ex-BR passenger stock, from heavily graffitied Mk1 coaches to pristine stock. I was rather surprised to see this Mk3 1st Class Buffet Car in a semi-scrap condition with all windows missing; it wasn't long ago that these excellent coaches were the pride of the West Coast Main Line. They form the coaches of all Inter City 125s (HSTs) and are generally considered to best the best passenger vehicle Britain's railways have ever had.

At Carnforth the train leaves the WCML and heads west along the northern shore of Morcambe Bay. This is Arnside Viaduct over the Kent Estuary, looking inland.

  An embankment between Morcambe Bay and the estuary of the River Leven 

The line leaves the coast occasionally, but never for long. This is looking north towards the Lake District. 

Kents Bank Station, presumably referring to the bank of the River Kent. Shouldn't it therefore have an apostrophe?   

This is odd - a lighthouse on an inland hill, north of the line near Ulverston. Actually it isn't a lighthouse and has never had a light; it is Hoad Monument, and It commemorates Sir John Barrow who was born in Ulverston in 1764. Sir John was a founder member of the Royal Geographic Society, and held various government posts in the 19th century becoming the Second Secretary to the Admiralty.

About two and a half hours after leaving Manchester Airport, our 185 unit reaches Barrow In Furness, where I'm pleased to see semaphore signals are still in use!

I always think of Barrow as a rather depressed area, but this newspaper hoarding seems to indicate otherwise... 

After nearly half an hour at Barrow, we retrace our route back home. I wonder how long these power poles last before the sea water they sit in rots them off at the base? 

Humphrey Head, near Cark 

At Carnforth we rejoin the WCML again by West Coast Railways depot. They seem to have quite a collection of Class 37 and 47 diesel locomotives, and even a class 57. 

An old coaling tower reminding one that this was once a busy loco shed. That ex-Virgin Mk2 coach has seen better days!

Back on the West Coast Main Line, crossing the River Lune just north of Lancaster

After a high speed dash down the WCML to Preston we had a twenty minute wait in the station while the Blackpool North train ran in behind us and the two trains joined for the rest of the journey to Manchester Airport. Seems a shame to sit for twenty minutes after a hundred MPH dash, but I suppose we have to stay in front of those Virgin Pendolinos on this main line.

Here's the timber train from Carlisle to the Timber Products factory at Chirk, near Wrexham.... 

....Hauled by Colas Rail Class 60, 60096 making its way south at Preston

The journey from Preston onwards is not very photogenic. We left the WCML at Euxton Junction and passed Horwich, Bolton, Salford Crescent (just outside of which we had our only hold up of the day, making us about 5 minutes late), Deansgate, Oxford Road, and Piccadilly where I left the train and dashed to make the now very tight connection with the 17:07 from Piccadilly to Crewe. I made it, and that took me home to Wilmslow where the 88 bus, almost on time for once, got me home.

An interesting day out with (once past Preston) breathtaking 'big sky' scenery of endless sands, sea, wide river estuaries, and low hills.

Where next? Right around the Cumbrian coast maybe?


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